IED In English Digital October 2013
CHALLENGING EDUCATIONAL PA R A D I G M S !
The British Council magazine for teachers of English in Lusophone countries
IED Contributors Mar2n Goosey
Paul Driver (Design & Illustra2on)
Carmen Soﬁa Gonçalves
Helena Oliveira Many thanks to the excellent eltpics for providing the additional photography used in this issue Autumn Leaves cover illustration: Paul Driver
introduction Currently, many countries around the world are attempting to reform their public education system. The two key reasons for this seem to be economics and the need to retain cultural identities while operating in a globalised context. In a time of rapid change, how do we teach students to have a sense of cultural identify, while still being part of the process of globalisation? How do we raise standards in an education system was designed in a different age? To face these challenges, many people suggest that a paradigm shift is needed in education to develop learners who will thrive in an era of accelerating change and uncertainty.
issue and other ideas you would like to share. If you want to receive alerts when the next edition is published, or to receive our new InEnglish Digital newsletter, then you can sign up here. Please remember that we also want to hear from you. The next edition, IED8, will be asking the question “How creative can we get?” If you want to add your voice to this asking questions or giving suggestions then let us know before 15 January 2014.
I would like to thank the contributors to this edition for their excellent articles on the need to challenge the educational paradigm.
To all our readers worldwide – we hope you enjoy this edition – use it, share it, tell us what you think … and remember to send us your ideas and comments. We’ll publish them – if you allow us – on our new website: http://www.britishcouncil.pt/en/ teach/inenglish
Please feel free to contact us at any time. Use this address to send us your comments on any of the articles in this
Christina Phelps English Programmes Manager, British Council Portugal
editorial Most teachers in most countries know that there is something wrong with the way that education is organised. The need to challenge the educational paradigm has never been greater and teachers can often be heard expressing ways in which this might be done. But is anyone listening? Do politicians, administrators and academics actually understand the issues at all? Perhaps we need to raise our voices even more to be heard against the background babble of bubble economics and social control. In this issue of IED we hear from a wide variety of voices who never theless maintain a common theme: the need to change the way we teach. This can be expressed through an examination of structure and theory or it might be through practical methodology in the classroom and stimulating student focussed activity. In this edition we look at designing lessons to take the form of a narrative, examine
state of course book content, look at some radical ideas from a Portuguese school, examine a view of holistic teaching, indulge in some poetry in the classroom, think about a new approach to classroom management and lesson planning, consider heightening intercultural awareness in the classroom and ask if it is time for teachers to be revolting. We hope that you come away from this edition replete with new ideas and brimming over with enthusiasm. We also hope that this enthusiasm will encourage y o u t o c o n t r i b u t e t o t h e n ex t o r forthcoming editions of IED, or simply to respond to what you have read here. Contact us here. Fitch O'Connell Editor
Happy Ever Afters with Narrative Lessons Here’s a challenge: can you re-plan your Young Learner (YL) classes to take advantage of narrative structures that children know and love? Can you, in other words, consciously plan lessons with beginning, middle, and end, and with an engaging problem that needs active resolution, rather than serial exercise completion? Perhaps you’re not clear on the distinction? Then, read on! Maybe a story will help reveal all...
grounded in the writings of wise ones, ancients with wizardly-sounding names, like Vygotsky, Bruner, Piaget, and Dewey. Together, their tomes formed a background of consensual approaches towards enhancing the YL teaching-learning process. Our trainees toiled and tormented day and night to combine these elements into workable, personalised concoctions; formulated these into lesson plans; and tested them in teaching practice, as the mysterious gurus observed, nodding sagely at new-found skills, or shaking heads, disappointed by sometime inability to facilitate predicted learning outcomes.
Once Upon a Time... ...in a land far, far away (if Madrid is far away), some novice YL-teaching professionals began a new training course – one designed to help them become skilled practitioners in the high arts of teaching 7-14 year olds. Developed by a cabal of mysterious gurus, knowledgeable in the learning ways of children, the course included such vital techniques as classroom management, the preparation of appropriate materials, and reward systems that would – apparently – induce magical degrees of control over classes. Moreover, these were no bizarre Pied Piper dreams, but were
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However, as in all good narrative constructions, a particular problem arose time and again for our heroes – one that was a prime cause in such head-shaking. In submitting their lesson planning forms, trainees had to fill in a box labelled ‘Context’, and, for those inexperienced in the high arts, this was befuddling. Many wrote ‘animals’ or ‘sports’ or ‘hobbies’, confident that these topics would realise the approbation of observers. Oh, woe to the uninitiated! For a topic is not a context, and the gurus foresaw that while well-chosen topics might pique childish interest, they would not hypnotically sustain engagement through prolonged classroom activity.
course participants suffered considerable consternation, lest their inability to distinguish their topic from their context caused them to fail in their quest to master all they surveyed (in Classroom 28). Two, whom we shall call Juan and Louise – for no other reason than that these are genuine names – decided to consult a guru over this problem, because while occasionally obscure in explanation, the tutors were at least paid to answer questions. In response, a wise sage with straggly, whitening beard posed these questions:
Identifying key words here (e.g. comfortable, interest, enjoys participating, and works very carefully), “We may conclude,” opined Louise, “that this ‘invention of stories’ has really helped X engage with English tasks.” Juan nodded in agreement, though still slightly baffled as to how gap-fills in coursebooks could become essential to narratives in lesson planning. White-beard therefore directed them to read essential child-related learning scripture, which the gurus had collectively distilled into a spell-binding document called ‘The Handout’.
‘Have you ever considered you could keep your class’s attention for the whole lesson by taking what they like doing in their free time and adapting it? That they might then participate, practise, and learn without consciously doing so? Yes, we all use ‘games’ and ‘technology’ in lessons because ‘kids like it’, but could your whole lesson become a narrative? Could it have a beginning, middle, and end, and an engaging challenge that learners are intrinsically motivated to complete? Their favourite stories have these elements, so do their films and TV programmes, and so do their games. What does that tell you...?’ In true narrative style, he then tasked them with Five Labours, so they would achieve selfrealisation in the completion. Each one led Juan and Louise closer to the wisdom of context. Now, can you predict these Labours? Labour One: Read a Report Card Labour One was simple enough, requiring only that our heroes read an anonymous end-of-term report card, for a YL uniformly graded ‘Very Good’, excepting ‘Excellent’ in ‘Completion of Set Tasks’. It read: ‘X is now a lot more comfortable in her English class and is not as shy as last term. She shows interest in all areas... and now also enjoys participating in group activities. She works very carefully and at her own pace when doing exercises in her books. It’s almost as if she invents a little story with every activity she does, and it’s a pleasure to see her so very proud of her completed tasks...’
What do you think it said? Labour Two: Consultation of the Spell-binding Handout “Look,” said Juan to Louise, “this Piaget fellow prioritised the child’s active role in learning, stressing that mental activity allows them to construct their own understandings and so make sense of the world. That’s not dissimilar from this other dude, Vygotsky, who emphasised that when they jointly solve problems, children’s social interaction assists learning, which takes place in s o m e t h i n g c a l l e d t h e ‘ Zo n e o f P rox i m a l Development’ – whatever that is!” “I’ve already searched the internet,” replied Louise, “and this ‘handout’ thing is really very basic: there’s tons more about Vygotsky’s ZPD and these other concepts even on Wikipedia...” “I don’t have the time!” flustered Juan, “I’ve got a lesson plan to write for an assessed observation! Just tell me what you learned about contextualisation.” “Well,” soothed Louise, “Bruner emphasised that the process of learning is as important for children as the product. He believed that, for kids learning must have purpose to make it meaningful, must take place in contexts that have familiar formats, and that experiencing success is vital. Someone needs to lead them, but if learning is scaffolded, anything can be taught to any child: but only if presented in a way that is accessible.” “Wow,” cooed Juan, “that sounds like this Dewey guy too! He reckoned learning is easier when related to prior experiences – and it’s a social, interactive process.
Seems like loads of opinions match. Dewey also said teachers should be members of the community, while delivery of knowledge should be balanced with the interests of the learner. Problem is, I’m beginning to wonder what little kids’ real interests are...” Trudging back to Mr. White-Beard, their reward was a more complete definition of context in language learning: ‘Language used in environments which contain plentiful clues to its meaning are described as context-embedded... Decontextualized or contextreduced language use, on the other hand, occurs when there is little in the immediate environment, other than the language itself, which helps learners derive meaning from the language being used.’1 What did he suggest next? Labour Three: Interviewing Children Labour Three involved asking kids directly about their free time preferences: teaching vastly different age groups and levels, it wasn’t surprising to hear Juan and Louise get diverse answers. Yet, somehow, similarities kept popping up. Whether in listening to or reading stories; watching films or TV programmes; playing ‘dress-up’ or ‘make-believe’; narrative structure was intrinsic, as was problem resolution.
rewarding, yes, but what’s even more intrinsically motivating is the desire to take part in the activities themselves. They won’t even realise when they’re participating that they’re learning too!” With that, Juan went away and wrote his assessed lesson plan. How do you think he did? Labour Four: Reviewing Lesson Plans Well, despite an enthusiastic initial response from his 12-13 year olds, half-way through he was confronted with heavily sighing learners and a tutor’s shaking head. Dispirited, Juan went for feedback with white-beard.
Juan realised he had begun his lesson very well, asking his class to imagine they were graphic artists designing new superheroes for a famous comic. Unfortunately, the narrative hadn’t been sustained, and, at one point, he tried to incorporate some coursebook work into the lesson. Having created tremendous energy and enthusiasm among the group with an engaging task, he rarely referred to it again, and when he asked the class to ‘turn to page 42’... they felt the context was a trick: just another coursebook-based lesson, cloaked in a lie. Though far from disastrous, familiar signs of ennui and sloth had crept into learner responses, and disruptions began: the cycle of boredom, misbehaviour, and punishment returned.
“Cool!” reflected Juan, a keen gamer. “It’s like computer games nowadays. This game designer Raph Koster says ‘Never start an interaction with n o C O N T E X T ’3 – s c e n e - s e t t i n g a n d characterisations. Games must have winnable challenges designed to suck you in: mastering one ‘level’ just brings you to another one. These challenges can be ‘hard fun’, but they’re kind of making players central in sequential narratives too.” “Ooh, fancy words!” teased Louise. “But I reckon if we put activities like these in our lessons, offering the kids challenges or asking for their help in resolving problems we have, then our lessons will be far more engaging!” “Too true!” enthused Juan, “But lesson planning always included this ‘creating interest in the topic’ thing. We have to really establish a need for help, so we can tap into their desire to gain adult approval. It’s motivating because that approval is
Sagely, the tutor repeated a quote he had once heard wizardly Jeremy Harmer use, struck by its current relevance: “...endings aren’t just important to narrative. They matter because our brains pay them disproportionate attention. Medical researchers report that a long painful experience that ends with some comfort is remembered as being much better than a short more comfortable one that ends with pain...” How could Juan sustain his narrative thrust for a whole lesson?
Labour Five: Group Planning Our guru’s solution was two-fold: first, he provided some sample lesson plans for review; second, he gave Juan a ‘pre-lesson consultation’ before his next observation, where ideas were brainstormed and honed. However, Juan, being cast as super-smart narrative hero, went one step beyond. Calling Louise and the rest of their group together, they collectively generated some usable classroom narratives – lesson plans where target language fitted naturally into various contexts. Using poster-sized paper allowed the production of lesson procedures as large illustrated narratives, helping them to visualise and commit the plans to memory. Doing this collectively meant they shared their expertise and knowledge – the organisational strengths of some and the creativity of others – just as in folkloric tales where collective spirit finally prevails over evil. And so...?
They All Lived Happily Ever After... Or at least, they all passed the course. Juan’s last observation was excellent, graded ‘Strong Pass’: he contextualised a narrative of the class as trainee spies (a ‘Junior Bureau of Investigation’ for 11-12 year olds, using JBI letterheaded paper and calling them ‘Agent Ines’ or ‘Agent David’ throughout the lesson). This was a clever device to introduce Present Continuous via dictagloss: first, trainee agents heard and copied a spy’s recording of his trailing a suspect; but when he was suddenly injured, the trainees were rapidly advanced, writing and sharing their own reports; Director Juan, meanwhile, saying, “Oh, by the way, to do that you’ll need this language...” At lesson’s end, all trainees were promoted to full Agent, having successfully listened, written, and orally reported using a new structure. Louise did equally well, getting her observed 7 year olds to write animal descriptions matching pictures: visiting Madrid Zoo the previous day and being gifted some information cards by a keeper, a fierce storm had soaked and ripped up the modelled cards; only the class’s help writing replacements would assuage the keeper’s wrath. Gurus nodded approvingly as aims were achieved all round; newly-qualified trainees rejoiced; and their students were happiest of all. The End.
What Really Happened? There are two sides to every story, so it’s only fair to provide the truth. The idea of using narrative contextualisation in YL lesson planning developed while assisting teachers on a real British Council training programme. The British Council/Trinity College TYLEC (Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate) was piloted in Madrid in 2009. It has since been exported to East Asia, South America, and Europe (including Portugal), but is exclusive to British Council Teaching Centres. While Juan and Louise are real people, and they had similar lesson experiences, their characterisations are for narrative drive only: I beg their forgiveness for misappropriating their names! The excellent lesson ideas were, however, theirs. You can see video interviews with them, the real handout, and much more, on my Prezi called ‘MultiStory’. Thank you for reading!
Martin Goosey 1 McKean, D., ‘Language Culture and Schooling’ in Genesee, F. (Ed.) ‘Educating Second Language Children’; Cambridge University Press, 1994: 23-4 2 See Raph Koster’s website presentation. M Davies in Wired Magazine, August 2010; quoted by Jeremy Harmer at the IATEFL Teacher Training SIG pre-conference event in Liverpool, April 2013.
Martin's article is based on a presentation he gave at the IATEFL Conference in Liverpool in 2013.
Is it Time for Teachers to be
ecently, the guru of the modern movement to change education globally to fit the new realities of the Internet and digital world, Sir Ken Robinson, spoke for the third time at a Ted conference. Again he was inspiring, in his delivery and content. He spoke what appears, to the vast majority of educators’ perfect sense. Yet we know his logical, sensible and realistic words will go ‘Smack’ against the political wall were policy will be decided. In these difficult times, politicians have become more entrenched, more sure that the old ways are the best ways, and less trusting of pedagogic experts, or even the teachers - the very people who a re t r a i n e d a n d ex p e r i e n c e d t o implement good education. The testing regime seems to be purely directed at weeding out an army of ‘Bad’ teachers,
when it is the generals who are too blame for poor results. A colleague, who is a head of depar tment in a large district educational authority, recently told me that he tried to present a plan to his political masters, to change education in his district. He had detailed out a complete system and methodology for change. After a week of frustration he spoke to me. He was appalled at not only the lack of understanding of basic education that he was trying to present, but worse, the politicians did not have a single idea to contribute to the debate. A lost cause.
There are multiple reasons, and in a previous article I spoke about the vacuum of a common educational theory, and also why there cannot be a single theory. We know that the quick answer is because children are not chemicals that react in an identical way every time the reaction is run. Children are individual biological and psychological entities and require individualistic programmes to succeed. I am also not going to get into explanations of why we need to change education; my maxim is ‘We should be educating children for their futures, not our pasts’. What I want to talk about here is whether the thousands of committed educators across the world, who I know are fighting for their students, can or should be doing something about it, and if so what can they do? Well for a start we can look more closely at immediately available resources that we can use. We can watch this excellent film how Finnish teachers are teaching and being trained . I offer my European projects that are loved by students as they are targeted at autonomous, creative learning, self-constructed learning, collaboration, peer-feedback. I am not arguing that my projects are the start and finish, but they do offer ideas how we can build cross-curricular frameworks, but most importantly bring in to learning, for me, the most important missing element, children’s passion. The things they love. If we can get to the children through their passions, we won’t
be educating, they will be playing and learning. Tangible steps, I have made a new group on Facebook (sorry those that don’t like Facebook, but I know how to use it best), called ‘The Revolting Teacher’ I propose a few ideas for the group as a start point: How can we enrich our students' education so that they stay motivated to learn How can we include future orientated teaching within the close confines of current educational curriculums? How can we advocate to change the scandalous failure of current education How can we learn and teach each other I'm happy to hear your ideas as well, but in the group please, so we have an open discussion. I do not believe, except for civil action, we can change what is happening today. The lunatics are in control of the asylum. What we can do is try to teach in ways that we know the students can relate too, to attempt to give our students the education they deserve, not the pedantic hearsay that bears no relation to their needs, for their futures. We just need to share our ideas and support each other. Joel H Josephson
Adapted from The Uneducated Educator blog See also Joel Josephson's TEDX talk here
we are fitting into a factory production line and the amount of time we have to creatively and effectively plan our lessons according to our students’ needs is replaced by other tasks. As one says, grids and single marking are taking over education, as if the leaner himself were not the subject and object of the process. So at this point, what we want to share with you is that little, but crucial, “BUT” that makes us all – students and teachers – embrace the process of learning, since relevant processes in learning tend to lay foundations for the process of growing and of being.
Learning is Learning is Learning. This is, in my own words, the best way to describe the core of a philosophy that goes for teaching and for life itself. This adaptation of the well-known concept by Gertrude Stein captures the essence of what we have been doing at Escola Basica Visconde Juromenha, Mem Martins, Sintra, Portugal. Not that it is innovative or extraordinary. We are not telling you anything new, really! It’s just that sometimes we forget the simple ways and we need to remind ourselves from time to time. We, teachers, are always learning new ways, learning to adapt old ways into new experiences and learning to find a true learning process for our students. The awareness of unpredictability and multiplicity at all levels of learning and teaching - that goes beyond age, individual, proficiency, backgrounds, social and cultural environments and sensibility – on one side and the demand and expectations of the several parts that have an important role in education on the other are sometimes overwhelming; and we tend to keep in line with all responsibilities, disregarding the freedom required to develop our own learning and teaching purpose – which is a valuable one. And that goes for this time, more than any other, when we increasingly feel as though
At our school we came to a point where we had several students that shared the same problem – little or even no knowledge of English whatsoever. This was because they were foreign to the Portuguese Education System and hadn't shared the same curriculum, but were given the same schooling level anyway. So, as usual, we faced different proficiency levels in the same class and some students couldn’t cope with the enormous gap between themselves and the majority of the class, leading them to give up English. Therefore, there was an urgent need to do something for these students and we began developing strategies similar to those we found Portuguese teachers using in their non-native Portuguese, or Portuguese as a Foreign Language classes. This happened while our school was facing some serious changes regarding its own organization, enabling us to apply as a Project (an Action, as they say) when our school became a TEIP school – a school with special features that required specific means and methods, mainly because of the type of student population, indiscipline and results. Immediately we discovered that this was a good way of doing things, and that was just the beginning. You see, we soon realized that there were so many simple things that could be done and the children were responding so positively to our approaches. The reason for this was that we were giving them a chance, and the space, to grow within the language. That is one of the most fundamental paths to positive achievements – stimuli.
Then there was true engagement in sharing among teachers. We learned how to share again, sharing planning, methods, techniques, materials and even assumptions and opinions. And last, but not least, we shared the classroom, the students and classes themselves, and it was so rewarding on both sides.
Then, classes go on, some of which are planned for the whole class where teacher support is given and different materials used depending on the activity/topic/ content.
This wasn’t built in a day, of course, it took us four years to develop the way we found served our purpose best. We do not consider that we’re done either; we simply understand it has matured and is probably the most adequate process to enable us to keep learning from each other – students and teachers.
Other classes are planned separately from the main group, especially when structure and grammar are taught, and we help them achieve the basic language/communication skills they lack. Naturally, materials and activities are of important relevance, so we share and discuss these to find a suitable option for that specific situation.
Now we have a few classes from several school forms/grades (with some students from foreign countries) with two English teachers. One is the general class teacher and one is nominated for these particular students. Both are involved in the whole class process and we are able to create real enthusiastic lessons. I would say that the interaction between the teachers and students has developed in such a way that it has become natural. Every student recognizes the second teacher as a supporter, or partner, and so the role of both teachers becomes less of a standard or stereotype and more a part of the whole, along with them, enabling the students to learn and communicate better. But this is the indirect consequence of the project. The obvious results come from those students for whom it was first developed. Besides the motivation and stimuli, there’s the feeling that they are achieving something. They can really start communicating in English and they continue their learning to a point where they no longer struggle to understand what is going on in class and voluntarily engage in class activity. This achievement, which is dependent upon each student’s rhythm, level of proficiency, class level, and so on, is acquired because of an increase in their self-esteem built out of the Project strategies. As strategies, we, teachers, apply to each student a Level of Proficiency diagnosis according to CEFRL descriptor scales and ESOL Cambridge standards. From here we proceed with an individual plan, which considers current proficiency levels and target levels (which is the form/grade they were put in).
Evaluation is a pair-work concern and typical written evaluation exercises may differ from others according to the student’s level and topics taught. Our main target is to improve their communication skills until the, once enormous, gap between students is no longer an issue or disappears completely. At that moment we say that the student has acquired autonomy and is ready to leave the project. At that time the student is fit to work on his or her own and fortunately does not need us any longer. We were soon given positive feedback for the work that had been developed and in 2012 we were invited to CNEDU to take part in a seminar, on a panel, where diversity and equality in the classroom were the focus. They kept telling us that this was an innovative “methodology” and that it was unique to Portugal, but we know that all of us can do such things when we try to find solutions to our problems. It is simply a question of being free to think and work outside the box, rather than being stuck inside it. We still have a long way to go. We help students learn to learn, giving them responsibility for their own learning, and we learn from one another. It’s an evolving an unfinished process, but we are delighted to share it.
Carla Faria 'Island Survival' is a classroom activity suggested by Carla.
Rawls’ Contract ....…
Ev e r y o n e i s h a p p y w h e n a government announces that it will build a new road or railway link from near their home to a big city. But their first question is: how near? This is known in the UK as "nimbyism". Protesters against such infrastructure planning decisions often used the phrase "Not in my back yard", which turned into the acronym "NIMBY". This was because the discovery that a proposed new motorway would be visible - or audible - from a house can make its value drop enormously, for example. This is a perfect example of how one person's good news (a shorter commute) can be another's bad news. It depends on how much they have to gain or lose from the proposed change: their stake. “What is a stakeholder? A stakeholder is anybody who can affect or is affected by an organisation, strategy or project. They can be internal or external and they can be at senior or junior levels.” Whenever change is proposed or a solution to a problem is suggested, people will react according to their stake in the issue – which is not always the best way forward. This is where Rawls’ Contract comes in. John Rawls was an American philosopher who wrote A Theory of Justice. In this he outlined what has become known as Rawls'
Contract. This has two essential components, the original position and the veil of ignorance.
We can look on this as a kind of practical role-play – you just don't know your role The original position simply asks "What would happen if we started afresh?" The answer is probably that we would end up exactly where we are today, because, although we all want the best, our perception of the best is coloured by our histories, our educations, our abilities and our aspirations. But Rawls wanted us to put these aside, and he so proposed the veil of ignorance. This doesn’t mean being stupid. This meant that you had to approach a problem without knowing how it would affect you personally. This, he argued, might lead people into the creation of systems and societies based on the greatest good for the greatest number. Justice is often depicted as blindfolded, after all. So far, so theoretical. How does this help us in our teaching? Well, it allows us to conduct thought experiments that can be adapted for any problem. We first of all identify the existence of a problem.
We then work out who the stakeholders are. These will be the people involved in the problem, as well as people who might be affected by changing the current situation. The number of stakeholders can be as big or as small as the problem that you are investing requires. Let us take two school-based examples. For example, if you're developing a new national curriculum, the interested parties might include the State, neighbouring States, the Governing Party, the Main Opposition, educational ministries and experts, the paying Public (divided, perhaps, into people on pensions, people with kids, people without kids, kids), parents, school children, students, teachers, head teachers, supply staff, social workers, caretakers and more.
or not, and what fresh insights the final reveal gave you. You might even want to have an attempt at rewriting sections with your new insights. We can look on this as a kind of practical role-play – you just don't know your role. The list of potential uses is endless, but here are a few examples we might want to cover: either in the staffroom, or in class, or both? • teacher observations • teacher assessment • learner assessment • a course book or not? • acceptable classroom behaviour and its consequences • rewriting the syllabus
On the other hand, we could apply the solution to a single class of students, perhaps dealing with the issue of How to deal with a mixed ability class? Here, the participants might be the teacher, the higher-level learners, the lower-level learners, parents, person in charge of the curriculum and the person in charge of the evaluation system. Anyway, as you can see, the list of stakeholders will depend upon what you hope to achieve and how many people are affected. The only requisite is that there can't be more roles than there are people in the room.
• use of school IT/Multimedia resources • wall displays in the school • provision of food and drink on school premises • native or non-native speaker teachers?
Andy Baxter Find more issues – if you don't have any real ones where you work! – in the teachingenglish.org.uk polls and forums For more about who (corporate) stakeholders are, see here:
The next part is simple: you write all the roles you want to include on card and put them in a sealed envelope. The envelope must give no clue as to its contents. You then shuffle and give out the envelopes, giving one to each person (or group, if there are more people than roles). The most important part comes next: you tell the participants that they have to agree a possible solution to the problem, but that they can't open the envelopes until after the discussion has been concluded. You then sit down with your fellows, and sort out the main issues. You then try and reach an agreement on each one, bearing in mind which role your envelope might contain. After agreeing a solution, each person or group then opens their envelope. You can then assess your feelings now that you know your role. Is it still a good solution? What are your concerns? This can lead to a new round of discussing why you felt happy American philosopher John Rawls
Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @yearinthelifeof used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0
Incorporating intercultural awareness in Language Teaching
“I am sitting here in this classroom and you don’t seem to be interested in what I do, where I do it, who I meet, my beliefs, my way of talking. You then ask me to write about ‘The weekend’ or ‘A bad day’. I can’t do it. You will not be an interested audience.” Michael Rosen in “Don’t pull up your trouser legs before you see the sea: young people, culture and school” (p.251)
I first came across this article by Michael Rosen when I was taking English Didactics with Maria Helena Dias Loureiro, now a teacher in Escola Secundária Avelar Brotero. It made a lot of sense then, and it still does now. The students we have in our classrooms bring many things with them into their learning atmosphere. They bring their language, their culture, their personality, their likes and dislikes among many other issues. As Michael Rosen (ibid) states, “when cultural identity of the young person is received with interest, many flowers bloom”. As Catherine Wallace mentions Critical Literacy Awareness in the E.F.L. Classroom, “critical reading has not been generally encouraged in the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom” as “reading has been seen to be unproblematic as an activity, simply as what goes on when the reader meets the text. Texts have not generally been selected for their potential to challenge” (Wallace, 1992, p. 62). We have used texts as vehicles to teach grammar and the syllabus, but we haven’t tried to go further in our classrooms. Many teachers forget that we have a great power in our hands and that is the power to change/develop our students’ minds. Again agreeing with Wallace, there are quite a few things missing in our classrooms, such as
contextualising texts (which are many times shorn of authorship, date and source), using texts which are provocative and challenging in some way and using a methodology that questions our students’ assumptions and makes them want to go further. “This means looking at the ‘obvious’ and ‘taken for granted’ in critical ways so that, for instance, ways of talking about women, ‘blacks’ and foreigners, which are so commonplace as to be seen as obvious by most teachers, are placed under scrutiny” (Wallace, 1992, p. 68). Our students have to realise not all pieces of authentic material represent reality and this must be a topic of discussion too. How ‘authentic’ and challenging is a text, which has nothing to teach but grammar? One of my aims is, therefore, to increase students' awareness and to develop their curiosity towards the target culture and their own by encouraging them to make comparisons among cultures, which are deeply embedded in the Common European Framework (CEF). I want to enrich my students' knowledge and to make them aware that although some cultural elements are being globalised, there is still diversity among cultures. This diversity should then be understood and respected, and never over or underestimated. With this cultural diversity in mind, I do not intend emphasise one target culture alone, but all the ‘cultures’ we have in our world.
Incorporating intercultural awareness in Language Teaching
My students’ reactions couldn’t have been more positive throughout the project Image made using a photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @mkofab used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0
In order to address some of the issues I’ve mentioned earlier on, I developed a small scale project with the objective of encouraging my students to look critically, not just at texts themselves, but at the whole process of reading a text and analysing course books. I used authentic texts with the aim of helping my students see reading and written texts as problematical – to be critically aware of literacy as a phenomenon and assertive in their interaction with written texts. These represented a range of genres, such as advertisements, magazine and newspaper articles, and literary texts. They were also encouraged to examine their own course book critically, including cartoons, photographs and other non-print material, and to look for similar texts or other items from their familiar culture and compare and contrast them. Firstly, I asked my students to read the texts, to discuss what troubled them or simply raised their curiosity and say which one was their favourite (as in the case of an advertisement, an image or a cartoon). Again, the aim was to encourage reflective critical reading/thinking on their part. Secondly, I wanted my students to grasp this critical awareness through pre-reading/whilereading/post-reading activities. Some of the texts had questions related to the choice of topic and its relevancy, other possible endings (not the most obvious ones) and I also asked them to think of other questions they considered important. To better understand the development of this research and its results, I have organised my personal journal and my students’ reflections – oral and written. They have also completed a questionnaire from which I drew significant conclusions. How important is culture in our EFL classrooms? Culture has definitely taken an important place in language teaching. As I said before, it has been widely recognised that culture and language are
very closely related and language is used as the main medium through which culture is conveyed. Over the years many of the texts I took from course books were useful but did not necessarily lead my students to insight, whereas the development of people’s cultural awareness leads us to more critical thinking as citizens with political and social understanding of our own and other cultures. This is why I wanted to try a different approach and see if it worked. My students’ reactions couldn’t have been more positive throughout the project. In the written feedback (journal) three of them have given me, they mentioned this project contributed to raising their awareness of the place of a cultural and global education within foreign language teaching. They also feel it is important to incorporate this cultural and global education within foreign language teaching as it helps them to know more of the world around them. They told me they had learnt many new things, especially about the Australian culture. They particularly enjoyed reading the dream story “Kill To Eat”, which was the reason why I ended up buying another book with tales from many cultures around the world. You really get your students involved in these stories and it does help them to focus on other issues, which are related with the syllabus, such as the environment. My older students wrote in their journals they wished to know more about other English speaking countries (cultural information, literature, art…) and that they enjoyed reading Benjamin Zephaniah and Levi Tafari’s poems. One of my 11th grade students said she enjoyed them because they were ‘different’ and ‘aroused [her] curiosity’. She even decided to do some research on her own and in the next lesson had one of Benjamin Zephaniah’s books with her.
What I perceive as intercultural awareness within education aims at “enabling students to effectively acquire and use a foreign language while empowering them with the knowledge, skills and commitment required by world citizens for the solution of global problems” (Cates, 1990, p. 3).
their own course book critically. To a certain extent, they found culturally challenging materials were missing from their course books, and so finding other materials to supplement their course book was something they found very interesting and challenging. They also mentioned many texts had no:
From what I observed in my lessons, the readings were very useful as they encouraged my students to develop their critical thinking skills as well as their personal response towards texts read in c o n t ex t o f t h e i r l i f e ex p e r i e n c e s . T h ey understood their potential as a resource to “encourage greater sensitivity and self-awareness of the world” (Carter and Long, 1991, p. 3), apart from “exposing them to different styles of writing” (Shanahan, 1997, p. 165) through the use of authentic texts. Moral, cultural and social values can, undoubtedly, be passed on to s t u d e n t s i n o u r c l a s s ro o m s through the use of literary texts, which are “a source of qualitatively demanding authentic language with an unmistakably individual human voice behind them [that] deals with everyday life occurrences” (Hall, 1999, p. 11). As long as I provided a scaffold through appropriate teaching especially when dealing with culturally unfamiliar texts (Isenberg, 1990), I could positively draw on my students’ cultural background as a resource.
Context e.g. date the text was produced; the type of publication; the place where it was produced; the intended readership or audience; significant external events that influenced its production or may have been in the minds of readers/ listeners; likely political, religious or cultural viewpoint; Intention e.g. to persuade, to argue, to entertain, to sell something (advertisements).
It is up to us to diversify the range of perceptions available in the classroom
The research and findings “(...) language learning will be seen as a way for the learner to develop his or her personality (for example greater assurance or selfconfidence, greater willingness to speak in a group) or to develop his or her knowledge of how to learn (greater openness to what is new, awareness of otherness, curiosity about the unknown)” In The Common European Framework of Reference, 2001, p.135 T h ro u g h o u t t h i s re s e a rc h , m y s t u d e n t s acknowledged there is still something missing from their course books. From it I realised they also feel there is a gap between language and culture. As we all know, course books usually play a dominant role among materials used in the lessons. These are ready to be used and all teachers need to do is follow what has been planned. They serve as a rich source of topics, texts, visuals and language as well as help to form syllabus of the course (Pulverness, 2004). My higher-level students, and also the lower-level ones with my help, were encouraged to examine
Having analysed some of the 10th grade course books, I had also found there were still many ‘authentic tex ts’ shorn of authorship, date and source. Even worse, many of the texts used, especially with lower levels, were too artificial in their presentation of the target language. Hence, this lack of authentic materials led to an oversimplification of language and unrealistic views on real-life situations. Just before I started this project, there had been some misunderstandings due to my students’ lack of cultural schemata and so I felt this was the opportunity I needed to try a different approach. Whenever this situation occurs, it is up to the teacher to clarify the content. Due to a number of reasons, there are many who point out the extensive benefits of foreign language course books while others hold critical views on this subject. Pulverness considers course books’ topics and articles to be a possible danger for students as they might restrain teachers from expressing other points of view than those adopted by course book writers. According to my experience, and in agreement with Pulverness, teachers ought to go beyond the course book – if it does not offer them enough resources to allow critical thinking and intercultural awareness - and provide students with supplementary resources as to introduce cultural polyphony and ‘add value’ to the course book. It is up to us to diversify the range of perceptions available in the classroom and this is what I found most rewarding since I’ve started teaching. These materials will hopefully compensate for cultural dimensions that are totally missing from course books and take “students well beyond the usual end-of-unit question – Now compare this with houses/ festivals/occupations etc in your own country” (Pulverness, 2004).
Image made using a photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @mkofab used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0
I wanted my students to understand that learning assumptions or ignorance” (Byram, Gribkova and a foreign language is, above all, a universal tool Starkey, 2002, p. 21). for developing better understanding and empathy to otherness. Contrary to this, they often As Pulverness points out the “cultural imagination developed simplified and stereotyped views of the of public consciousness has been formed through target culture, and one of my objectives for this centuries by cultural products”, such as literary research was to fight this ‘parochialism’ (Hawkins, texts, and media, such as press and broadcasting, 1981). Teachers and course books should and it is a big challenge for us, language teachers, challenge this simplification by to deal with this problem. But, as presenting stereotyped attitudes cultural imagination of K r a m s c h f u r t h e r c l a r i f i e s , of target and their students’ own public consciousness breaking down stereotypes is not culture and making them topics of just realising that people are not has been formed discussion. Similarly, we should the way one thought they were, through centuries develop activities/tasks in which or that deep down “we are all the our students have to interact with by cultural products same. It is understanding that we the members of the target a re i r re d u c i b l y u n i q u e a n d culture, whenever this is possible (Council of different, and that I could have been you, you Europe, 2000) could have been me, given dif ferent circumstances — in other words, that the Undoubtedly, cultural knowledge is a part of stranger… is in us” (Kramsch, 1996, p.3). intercultural competence. This can be understood as the familiarisation with the characteristics of The Future of ELT society and culture of the community in which the language is spoken. Socio-cultural knowledge “Nobody out there listens to a teenager. relates to everyday life, living conditions, Everybody thinks we should be happy just interpersonal relations, values, beliefs and because we're young. They don't see the wars attitudes, body language, social conventions or we fight every day. But I know, one day, my war even ritual behaviours. Cultural knowledge, on the will end. And I know I will not die, I will not other hand, is one aspect of the knowledge of the tolerate abuse from anyone. I will not give up. I world. In this sense, the CEF warns to pay special am strong” In Freedom Writers (2006) attention to this part of the cultural competence as it can be “distorted by stereotypes” (CEF, 2001, As Yusoff (2004) mentions, “culture goes beyond p. 102). distinguishing ‘race’, religion or colour to include distinct patterns of behaviour, perceptions, Stereotypes and prejudices are common interpretations, ways of thinking and feeling which problems associated with culture learning. Too are simultaneously shared by and yet unique to often they are not a product of our personal the group of people who share the same culture. experience but are handed down and kept by Culture influences people’s perceptions, tradition. Byram claims that stereotyping responses and reactions towards things or issues “involves labelling or categorizing particular in life.” My students’ ability to identify themselves groups of people, usually in a negative way, with the culture that is portrayed in the texts according to preconceived ideas or broad enhanced their understanding of them. This generalisations about them – and then assuming familiarity helped them overcome some of the that all members of that group will think and linguistic complexity – syntactic or vocabulary - of behave identically. (...) Prejudice occurs when these texts. someone prejudices a particular group or individual based on their own stereotypical
When teachers are to choose texts, Yusoff mentions several factors we should take into account, such as the language level, topic, prior knowledge of our students and interest level, which should be the criteria for literary text selection. Through the activation of my students’ prior knowledge, they were able to process what they read even if they had low language abilities because their ability to relate what is read to the “theories of the world in [their] heads” (Smith, 1978, p. 69) could make up for it. As a result, they were able to understand the texts. All teachers should encourage students to examine the course books for themselves and apply their own critical thinking. We should facilitate classroom discussions rather than l e a d i n g o u r s t u d e n t s t o p re s u p p o s e d conclusions. Such a classroom seeks to exploit high interest materials as a way to efficiently facilitate the acquisition of L2 reading skills while simultaneously developing the students’ critical awareness. According to Carpenter (2002), “while use of provocative texts and topics is an excellent way to stimulate conversation and critical thought, potentially uncomfortable issues should be discussed with students from the outset, and a critical attitude of objectivity should be taken toward the texts.” The use of authentic materials is rewarding and stimulating for both students and teachers and should be used as far as possible. Not only have I used these with higher-level students but also with lower-level students. Traditional songs, rhymes or riddles, as we all know, are ideal for younger learners. Furthermore, authentic materials do not only include newspapers and literature but also materials such as web pages, TV broadcasts, films, leaflets, posters, basically anything authentic and written in the target language. This same material can be used with various levels provided that the task is graded to meet the students’ abilities and interests. Using authentic materials is relatively easy and an excellent way of improving our students’ skills as well as boosting their confidence in real life situations. Despite our students’ apparent dislike for poems, they should also be included in our classrooms. Both cultural content and meaning
can be approached in them. Poems should be read aloud and explained holistically while our task is to “attempt to overcome students prejudice and lead students to consider all sides of an issue” (Valdes, 1986, p. 145). Films, video clips, filmstrips and slides also provide cultural insights at the same time they welcome a variety of classroom activities. Excellent film on culturally related subjects are a v a i l a b l e c o m m e rc i a l l y, a n d photos that teachers have collected in their travels can be worked into short, first-hand cultural presentations. I have tried these and the results were fantastic. Students find these motivating and stimulating. “Videos are a wonderful vehicle for learning more about the topic, for making cross-cultural comparisons and making the language more memorable” (Cambridge ELT). Watching the film “Freedom Writers” (2006) really inspired me as a teacher when doing this project. Erin Gruwell managed to get her students interested in learning by making it personal and meaningful. She believed “the real fighting should happen (...) in the classroom” and so she did everything in her power to gain her students’ trust and help them make a difference in a school where nobody had faith in them. She got them interested in the Holocaust and Anne Frank’s story because they could relate it to their own life experiences. They were all fighting for their lives. Her students began writing their own journal, where they could write whatever they wanted. As time went by these students became a family, when there was so much dividing them – ‘colour’, ‘nationality’ and ‘belonging to different gangs’. She takes them to the cinema so they can watch “Schindler’s List”, she arranges a dinner with people who survived the Holocaust and takes her students to the Museum of Tolerance. Together they organised an event to raise money so they could meet Miep Gies, the woman who hid Anne Frank’s family. This is the kind of teacher I want to be. I want my students to discover new worlds, new identities and so far I think I’m being successful. Please feel free to visit my personal website, and leave a message: www.teachingenglishinportugal.blogspot.com
Maria Helena de Jesus Oliveira Colégio Moderno
Living in a
M a t e r i a l Wo r l d : Culture, Identity and Power in EFL Resources This review draws on my experiences at Awassa College of Teacher Education, Ethiopia in 2007-8, but my intention is that a diverse range of readers as find resonance in its main theme – the uneasy relationship between power, cultural identity and EFL materials. Referring to a language improvement course developed for school teachers, I address the question of how a course book produced at significant cost by highly q u a l i f i e d we s t e r n ex p e r t s c o u l d re c e i ve overwhelmingly negative feedback from tutors and participants alike, and what can be learned from this. While using the umbrella term 'materials' for convenience, the problems I raise relate most strongly to those course books which are designed to be followed fully, comprehensively and in a linear fashion, effectively locking participants and teachers into the content, structure and even the teaching approach of a particular programme. This was the case in ELIP, where courses were closely monitored to ensure that the book was followed and things were done 'correctly', although in many cases, rigid and materials-specific end-of-course tests have the same effect. I argue that externally produced teaching materials of this type, more than being ineffective, are at worst inappropriate and disempowering. Perhaps surprisingly, however, this view leads to an optimistic conclusion. A brighter future is available if and when dubious claims to cultural objectivity and global materials design expertise are softened. While there is increasing and welcome interest in rethinking EFL materials production, with the nonprofit organisation MATSDA set up for this exact purpose, I argue that our principal focus needs to shift to prioritise an inclusive, transparent design process over the objective 'quality' of the end product. Moreover, by questioning the value of too much external influence, the review puts teachers and students firmly where they belong, at the forefront of language course development.
The English Language Improvement Programme and Face to Face. The English Language Improvement Programme for Ethiopian teachers, running from 2003-2008 was a strand of “one of the most dramatic attempts to reform a modern educational system ever undertaken” (Honig, 1996:1), as the medium of instruction in schools was changed from Amharic to English. The course book for ELIP, Face to Face, was purpose written by a team from Leeds Metropolitan University, led by Brian Tomlinson. In terms of a wider curriculum or needs analysis, Tomlinson concedes that this was based solely on “information from the Ministry about their requirements plus an analysis by myself of what an Ethiopian primary school teacher is likely to need a n d w a n t t o d o i n E n g l i s h ” ( To m l i n s o n , 2008:unpublished). As I suggested above, it is important to bear in mind the central role that Face to Face played in ELIP. The book ultimately dictated the course content, and its rigidly defined activities forced a pedagogical approach based on its authors’ views and experiences. Evaluation of Materials: What, How and Who? Certainly, there were problems with the structure, appearance, relevance and level of Face to Face which any one of a number of published checklists could highlight (see, for example, Cunningsworth, 1995; Tomlinson, 1998; Tomlinson et al, 2001; McGrath, 2002; Richards, 2001). However, it is my belief that such checklists at best show only part of the picture, and at worst serve the exact same agenda as the materials they purport to evaluate. In order to claim objectivity, they ignore key questions about cultural assumptions, implicitly favour certain teaching approaches, and assign equal, universal importance to various criteria which are in no way universally relevant. At the heart of my analysis of Face to Face are serious concerns that a pseudo-objective checklist would not reveal.
For this reason, I believe the following openended points for evaluation (Littlejohn and Windeatt, 1988), which embrace the inherent subjectivity and contex t dependence of the exercise, are more appropriate for the purpose – especially, given the critical nature of the review, the fourth and sixth: •The general or subject knowledge contained in the materials. •Views on the nature and acquisition of knowledge. •Views on the nature of language learning. •Role relations implicit in materials. •Opportunities for the development of cognitive abilities. •The values and attitudes inherent in the materials. Culture, Identity and Power in Face to Face.
In another passage concerned with beauty and happiness, it appears that the authors make some attempt to avoid idealising the w e s t . T h e re s u l t , u n f o r t u n a t e l y, i s counterproductive. The text portrays a ‘fictional’ winter festival, but references to snowy nights, singers and a mythical King delivering presents to well-behaved children, alongside “beautiful decorations coloured lights and paper ornaments, gold and silver garlands, sweets, biscuits and chocolates”, make it easy to recognise a western Christmas. It is therefore disturbing that this fantastical setting is labelled “The Land of Eternal Light”. Moreover, aside from its unwieldiness, the sentence “…illuminating the darkness with torches held high to light their way through the black shadows, whitening the night with torches held high to light their way in the blackness” contains some highly questionable imagery. The Wider Picture
It is easy for writers representing a dominant culture to take a simplified view of i d e n t i t y, ‘ c e l e b r a t i n g ’ d i v e r s i t y b y “ exo t i c i s i n g a n d e s s e n t i a l i s i n g t h e Other” (Kubota, 2004:35). On the danger of leaving such power relations unacknowledged, Kubota continues that “the underlying logic in power evasion is that white culture is the norm into which Others are expected to be assimilated” (ibid: 36). These phenomena – idealising the western, while essentialising African identities – are very evident throughout Face to Face. The first two units of the book are largely concerned with traditional stories, in which a generic 'Africa' is populated by donkeys, lions, fools, thieves and wise elders. Similarly, in the ‘recipes’ section, Ethiopian and West African are indiscriminately bundled together. The book’s first explicit mention of a western character, on the other hand, is an educated, well-travelled former deputy head teacher. An even more unsettling example occurs when 'beauty' is first discussed. This is very much a culturally loaded language point, illustrating Ngugi’s stance on the ownership of such concepts, and the role of culture in defining them (Ngugi, 1986:1-12). It is particularly striking, then, that following two full chapters depicting an Africa filled with dried mud holes but otherwise utterly nondescript, the first mention of a western setting contains the adjectives ‘spectacular’ ‘ o u t s t a n d i n g ’ ‘ n a t u r a l ’ ‘ p i c t u re s q u e ’ ‘colourful’, ‘neat’ and ‘inviting’ and the noun ‘beauty’ within its first paragraph.
For me, a key point about Face to Face is the status and stature of its lead author. Brian Tomlinson is founder of the Materials Design Association, MATSDA, and has written widely about designing and selecting materials. As such, he would be regarded by most as a leading light in the field. Given these credentials, the book's significant flaws are apparently about more than individual shortcomings, and highlight wider issues around its design. I believe that three fundamental failings m a d e t h e p ro b l e m s o u t l i n e d a b ove inevitable. The first was to select writers solely from a UK institution based on a groundless assumption that teaching materials can ever be culturally neutral. The second was to believe that 'expertise' in materials production or evaluation can exist objectively and independently of detailed knowledge of particular teaching contexts. Finally, the process of design was wrongly and almost entirely overlooked in favour of the end product. Sadly, it is far from the case that Face to Face is unique in idealising, sanitising and whitewashing the traditional power bases of the developed, English speaking world. If anything, the opposite should in fact be true. As Richards notes, materials designed for such specific programmes actually have a better chance of meeting cultural needs than those written for the global market, since “materials can be produced that are d i re c t l y re l e v a n t t o s t u d e n t s ’ a n d institutional needs and that reflect local content, issues and concerns” (2001:261).
The observations on Face to Face therefore provide a useful springboard to highlight some related points about materials for the global market. As anyone familiar with the 'PARSNIP' acronym will know, ELT publishers almost never allow the inclusion of politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms or pork in course books. Aside from making most of the content pretty anodyne, this seems to me like an unwanted ticket back to the 'Land of Eternal Light'. The aspects of culture which are addressed serve to validate and normalise certain assumptions, beliefs and interests, while designating 'otherness' through what is omitted. Taking a fairly bold example, while working in Kuwait, it occurred to me that in eight years of teaching, I couldn't remember seeing one meaningful reference to British Muslim identity in any globally produced coursebook at any level.
before finally being made available on a national level. In terms of design, the focus was on the process, not the product, the local not the international, and on ongoing dialogue with diverse groups of stakeholders. In a final illustration of misplaced faith in the original, a protracted and heated debate then took place over a c c re d i t a t i o n o f t h e revised course. Various influential voices seemed to feel that a course produced by experienced teachers who were familiar with the context, in close conjunction with local partners, and which had been extensively field-tested to positive reviews, would somehow be less valid than a discredited, externally commissioned version. Happily, in this case reason eventually prevailed.
Whose voice is chosen to define the Englishspeaking world, and on what grounds?
I firmly believe that many language course materials – whether written for a specific purpose by expensively contracted foreign experts or produced for the even more lucrative global market – highlight some of the main questions we should be asking about EFL: Whose voice is chosen to define the English-speaking world, and on what grounds? In what light – consciously or unconsciously – is this world portrayed? What identity are students being offered as their point of entry into it? Are they being invited to question or challenge norms and conventions? In short, whose is the hidden hand in the classroom – and how powerful is its influence? (On this last point, it is worth noting that as far back as the early 1970s, Young (1971) argued that learners’ conceptions of ‘legitimate knowledge’ are partly shaped by inclusion in or exclusion from printed materials). Towards a Better Future This concluding section begins with a satisfactory ending to the cautionary tale of Face to Face. Three teacher trainers, all based in Ethiopia and having worked on the original ELIP project, collaborated closely with local teachers and Ministry staff to create an alternative course that was flexible, culturally appropriate and tailored both to participants' needs and the realities of many Ethiopian schools (Breen et al, 2008). The course was extensively piloted,
So here, as promised, is the optimistic conclusion. I fully understand the value of knowledge and experience sharing, and I'm not arguing against collaboration between local stakeholders and experienced, knowledgeable (often western) writers. It is, however, time to end the imposition of values based on the false premise of expertise. There is no objective ‘quality’ in course books. Global specialists, as glossy as their products may be, do not always get it right. In fact, their work inevitably gets less relevant to each individual situation as ELT expands into increasing numbers of new cultures. Above all, materials design needs to begin from the grass roots –in other words, in individual classrooms, so it is up to us, as teachers to find freedom wherever we can. Innovate and be radical. Invite and discuss awkward questions and make cultural comparisons – because this is all left out for financial, not pedagogical reasons. Build lessons around learners' experiences. Don't be afraid of making the mistakes which over time form a set of worthwhile experiences. Ask for and value feedback. Talk openly to colleagues and raise your concerns with school principals, academic managers or, as in the case of Breen et al, even Ministries of Education. Most of all, accept that nobody knows your learners better than you do, and that this gives you both a responsibility to speak and a right to be heard.
A School Tour The students of Escola Secundária C/ 3º Ciclo de Azambuja, Portugal, invite you to visit their school. Their English teacher, Margarida Pato, mentioned the possibility of making a video about the school to her 11th year vocational students, but left it open – it was entirely voluntary. She was surprised – and delighted – when they produced a short film on their own. She said “Sometimes even we, as teachers, underestimate the capacity of these students. It was a very nice surprise.” So follow Mariia Babiichuk, Oksana Manko, Ricardo Pechorro and Thárike Láuar as they show you around their school.
Poem-reading & creative-writing, and vice-versa
I Build Walls
Our lesson preparation has no longer been limited to the textbook or students’ book for quite some time. We gather material from the internet (blogs and e-texts, educational sites, schools and universities), friends, postcards, newspapers, magazines, books. I came across one in particular, through a friend, and we both use it in class. It is called “I build walls”, and like many others we know the author, just the address:
Furthermore, when teaching students of 14-18 years old, we notice how they deal with - and sometimes master – equipment, codes and new gadgets as an extension of their personalities. The same way they are a multitasking generation, they use the internet and social networks as one needs air to breathe: their life depends on how much they are seen and read, and how well they af f irm their thoughts, without exposing themselves.
I Build Walls I build walls: Walls that protect, Walls that shield, Walls that say I shall not yield Or reveal Who I am or how I feel.
The poem provides verses students identify themselves with; they can build different texts from this one; they can talk and write about their personal experiences, they can listen to each other and open themselves, mostly in writing, by means of a composition created around this poem. The results can be amazing: confessional, poetic, descriptive texts are produced, but only read aloud when the student agrees to it. When marking students’ written work, the teacher is more like a confessor than just a linguistic or style corrector. Adolescents’ self-consciousness prevents them from practising social skills to overcome their shyness. English lessons provide different contexts and experiences; provide the opportunity to develop social skills without feeling awkward; provide extra information to break the ice and to deal with real face-to-face communication.
I build walls: Walls that hide, Walls that cover what’s inside, Walls that stare or smile or look away, Silent lies, Walls that even block my eyes From the tears I might have cried. I build walls: Walls that never let me Truly touch Those I love so very much. Walls that need to fall! Walls meant to be fortresses Are prisons after all. Apparently, the more we communicate using technology, the less time we find to face-to-face c o m m u n i c a t i o n / c o n t a c t . “ Wa l l - b u i l d i n g ”, therefore, seems to be a very up-to-date topic well worth exploring, for reasons technology has provided.
Cultivating social-communicative skills in class always touches on the question of friendship, feelings, emotions and affections. To culminate this sub-topic, there is a saying I confront my students with: “Sometimes we put up walls. Not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to knock them down.” After going through the four skills, reading, speaking, listening and writing, I believe the fifth should be thinking, and this saying is thought-provoking and challenging enough to throw a hot potato to friends; much can be said and debated and written about friendship and walls. References: “I Build Walls”: Reading Comprehension, Vol. 8, No. 3, April 8, 2003 http://rhlschool.com [Copyright 2003 RHL]
Carmen Sofia Gonçalves
THE NEW WAY: ‘HOLISM’ a paradigm to replace orthodoxy
Questioning orthodox beliefs. An effective communicative activity I do with a new group of students is one in which I write important dates from my life on the whiteboard and invite students to guess their significance: for example, 12th September 1959, September 1980, and 30th June 2009. The activity practices question forms and proceeds like this: “Were you born on 12th September 1959?” “Yes, I was” “Did you start teaching in 1980?” “Yes, I did” “Did you get married on 30th June 2009?” “No, I didn’t. I got married much earlier in 1997.” Students can never guess the significance of this last date. In fact 30th June 2009 is the date I was proclaimed as dying. My surgeon declared me inoperable, terminally ill (riddled with cancer) and with at most three months to live. Obviously several years later it is clear he was wrong! However the issue is not his error of judgement but the false assumptions of orthodox belief that entitled him to make such a proclamation. It is on this day that I began to question orthodox beliefs. Human history is a tale of scarcity, misery and exploitation. We live in a civilization which piously denies that wealth is an end in itself and yet treats materialism exactly this way in practice. Are you as frustrated as I am when, attempting to relax in front of the TV evening news, the somber reporters incessantly exhort imminent calamity? Last night for example, there was the financial collapse of Europe, the extinction of the Black rhino (yet another species eliminated by human greed and lack of responsibility) and natural disasters as Mother Earth’s tears flood parts of Europe and Asia while her uncontrollable sobbing causes more earthquakes and hurricanes around the world. One crisis after another and yet here I am sitting apathetically in my armchair sipping tea as humankind relentlessly marches forward
banging the same old drumbeat to the edge of the precipice. On the television the economic analyst is reinforcing the mantra that the only way out of the economic crisis is ‘growth’. I nod sagely but know in my heart, as we all do, that unremitting growth, chronic rape of Mother Earth’s resources and unrelenting consumption is precisely what has brought us to the brink and continuing this orthodoxy will push us over the edge. We know more medicine does not make us healthier, more weapons do not lead to peace, and greater consumption does not lead to happiness: in fact the opposite. We desperately need a new paradigm, a change from the fundamental beliefs of scientific orthodoxy if we are not to plunge into the abyss. I believe teachers and educators have to lead the way. Our fate need not be inevitable destruction if we are able to expose the falsehoods of orthodox beliefs and open our minds to a more holistic perspective of human development and learning. Conventional wisdom is largely based on the t h re e m a i n p r i n c i p l e s o f m a t e r i a l i s m , reductionism and determinism. These principles in various forms have been ingrained into our subconscious over the last 300 years. We need to expose their limitations and be open to new beliefs and perspectives.
Materialism Materialism is based on the premise that ‘only matter matters’. The world is made up of physical entities (matter) and these have specific properties and behave in predictable ways. This was certainly the belief of my surgeon who after analysing my cancer cells was able to confidently state that there was only one possible outcome. The cancer fulfilling its natural mission would continue to spread until it consumed my body. Materialism implies that life is a constant battle of survival of the fittest and the only way to progress is by exploiting and consuming resources provided by nature. Everything behaves like a cancer cell.
Materialism Adapted from a photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @HanaTicha used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0
Quantum physics refutes this perception stating that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are not physical ‘matter’ at all but an invisible energy field that shapes and connects ‘matter’. In the quantum realm this energy can work on the cancer cells to create any number of potential outcomes. The principle of ‘the survival of the fittest’ is no more than a myth that has enabled a small percentage of business entrepreneurs, bankers and the corporate elite to do very well, survival of the individual at the expense of the whole now threatens humanity. A holistic paradigm advocates living in balance and harmony with nature and recognizing the interconnectedness of all things. As teachers we already recognize that fulfillment in our own lives synergies with the achievement and aspirations of others. Teaching, it can be claimed, is a state in which the flourishing of the teacher only comes about through the flourishing of the learners and as such highlights the falsity of materialist values. Virtue and wellbeing are relational. In damaging others, we are damaging our own fulfillment. Materialism is responsible for an economic system which is instrumental, dedicated to power and profit rather than fostering values of human sharing and collaboration.
influence than the medicine. Similarly as teachers our skepticism of reductionism is justified, as we know that when something ‘works’ in class this rarely means it will always ‘work’ in the same way in future classes. Hit an upright pencil and it will fall down, but hit a person and any number of consequences are possible. A holistic view of learning, on the other hand, recognizes the interconnectedness and synergy of our physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. Only by adopting a whole person perspective to learning and development can we truly comprehend reality and achieve our potentials.
Finally the orthodox doctrine of determinism stipulates the role of causality. Knowledge is seen as a commodity that can be categorized and boxed and then transmitted from teachers to learners, doctors to patients and so on. Medical science is a process, for example, that looks for physical symptoms as evidence of an illness and then seeks to intervene to administer a cure. Determinism states that there is a causal relationship between process and product. The world is a cosmetic surgery and if everything is standardized and controlled, like a McDonalds fast food restaurant, the result will always be the same.
T h e d o m i n a n t We s t e r n w o r l d v i e w o f reductionism is based on making distinctions and seeing differences, and advocates that entities are a sum of their parts. A reductionist view understands that when you stand a pencil upright on a table and hit it, then it will fall down. Physical matter behaves in predictable ways. Hence, after the autopsy my surgeon confidently made his proclamation. There was no need to consider anything outside the nature of the physical: my attitude, wellbeing, life ambitions and spirituality were all of naught. Reductionism has led to a pattern of thinking that assumes that the best way to see if something works is to try it. We live in a culture where evidence or so-called ‘scientific proof’ has acquired supremacy. Logic is given precedence over intuition, rational argument defeats opinion and academic research out-weighs experience. However, even in the medical profession, the power of the ‘placebo effect’ is acknowledged where the attitude of the patient has more
Teaching however questions assumptions of causality. When I demonstrate an activity on a teacher training course and invite teachers to try the activities in their classes, unlike making a McDonald’s burger I have no way of predicting how effective the activity will be. Teachers often report back that the activity worked well or was a disaster and can explain why this was the case. However, these reasons are explanations not causes. We can find reasons to justify any outcome. Teaching is not an intervention (like medicine) but a process of symbolically mediated interaction. If teaching is to have any effect on learning, it is because of the fact that learners interpret and try to make sense of what they are being taught on a range of levels. Far from being a causal technology, a push-pull process, teaching is an open and recursive exploration and indeed, ironically, it is the very impossibility of limiting teaching to a definable box that makes learning possible.
Reductionism Adapted from a photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @chrloras used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0
THE NEW WAY
Orthodoxy has created a top-down perception of reality that dictates basic principles that have been ingrained into our subconscious through the hierarchy of science. My experience with cancer demonstrated for me that these principles are flawed. Reflecting on my experiences of living with cancer I realize that there are many parallels with the learning processes I am familiar with as a language teacher. These processes can also be encapsulated into three levels: physical, mental and spiritual. Taking the physical level first, the human body is a highly ef fective learning organism that can frequently operate autonomously without conscious effort: performing complex tasks such as driving or teaching. Indeed not consciously considering every word I utter when teaching allows me to conduct the lesson effectively, (like authors who often state that when writing, their head is often unaware of what their hand is writing).
our thoughts on a spiritual level assigning our cancer cells and our life with significance, value and purpose considering spiritual and lifegiving issues such as why the cancer has appeared in relation to our sense of self and life purpose. These ‘spiritual thoughts’ can too easily be dismissed as mythology and not true from a scientific viewpoint. However I believe, and my experience suggests, we have bowed too readily to an omnipotent concept of scientific truth, assuming it is the only brand of truth available. Fact is not always more valid than opinion. The human spirit contains its own truth, one which perhaps lies more in the experiences encountered on life’s journey than in the propositions scientists’ advance about the features along the way. Spirituality provides value and purpose without which a life journey would flounder. If life has any meaning then it is not solely a proposition but also a practice. It is not solely a scientific truth but also an experience. As such, it cannot be articulated in language alone as a factual statement but can only really be known by living and experiencing the potentials through body, mind and spirit.
integral to the business of living
Second, mentally humans are distinguished from other beings on earth by their capacity to think about their own existence. I am aware, for example, as my pet cat presumably is not, that my existence is finite and my life is perpetually in the shadow of death. Equally, because I have language, I am capable of abstract thought. We can distance ourselves from our immediate contexts, free ourselves from our bodies, and speculate on life in its totality. Like fire, however, the power of abstract thought is an ambiguous gif t, at once creative and destructive. It allows us to conceive of joy and health as well as fear and death. Finally there is no doubt that humans are spiritual creatures who strive to make sense of their individual and collective existence. Indeed enquiring after our meaning, is part of what makes us the kind of creatures we are. Selfreflection is integral to the business of living. Awareness of physical, mental and spiritual well-being and their interconnectedness is fundamental to learning. THEORIES OF LEARNING I now believe, after my experiences, that Nature has homeopathically and considerately provided us with both the cure along with the poison. We can consciously focus on the cancer cells on a physical, biological level as a malignant neoplasm. Alternatively we can focus
A holistic approach to my health experiences with cancer has many parallels to my professional experience as a language teacher. Language teaching too has experienced epistemological shifts that have panned through a focus on the physical (Behaviourism); the mind (Cognitivism) and the spirit (Humanism). Each movement has had its camp of followers and positive influences and effective methodologies can be identified in each approach. However, now surely it is the time to raise the standard for a holistic approach to education (and medicine) incorporating and encompassing all of these levels of learning to fully maximise our potentials; indeed A Whole Person Learning Approach. Holism advocates a more bottom-up created view of creation; a view in which we learn and create our reality through the way we engage with our environment and interconnect with experience. It is a conception of numerous potentials as opposed to singular facts. The process of teaching challenges many orthodox principles and can lead to a new, more inclusive and interconnected perception of existence. I believe teachers have an important role in exposing the limitations of current doctrine and leading the way forward to new holistic beliefs and perspectives.
Some First Steps in a Narrative/Task Based Learning Methodology for ELT
This is very much a thinking paper, an attempt to communicate a series of interlocking concepts to assist in understanding the complex social reality which is the ELT classroom.
First let me provide you with a bit of context. I am both an ELT teacher and a strategic theorist. Strategic theory1 essentially concerns power relationships between political communities, but due to the complex social nature of what it deals with has applications outside international relations. Strategic theory is compatible with Weberian social action theory which provides it with extended relevance and explanatory analytical capability.
material aspects, that is it is very much peoplebased. So this is the basic assumption, that these energy flows are our main source of concern and fundamentally influence everything which happens in the ELT classroom. This a s s u m p t i o n d o e s n o t p re c l u d e o t h e r considerations, but rather prioritizes them.
My second assumption is that social action theory and strategic theory concepts are applicable to the ELT classroom. This approach is very much a That is how the theory Simply stated this would be that there are universal strategic theory application to is supposed to work characteristics involving social ELT and expands on my earlier interaction, especially none t h e o re t i c a l wo r k w i t h t h e material elements. A system of thought intention of producing a coherent applicable to highly complex and methodology for Fitch O’Connell’s adversarial situations (strategic theory) N a r r a t i v e / Ta s k B a s e d L e a r n i n g would be applicable to assumed approach to ELT. Based on strategic cooperative situations as well (the ELT theory this is a descriptive tool which classroom) since they are far less allows the individual teacher to complex from a theoretical perspective. understand adequately the complex social reality of a given ELT situation. It is It is however the third assumption that not a cookbook or guide for decision a c t u ally opens the mind to what this making, rather that always resides with the methodology is all about. That is narrative, or contingent nature of the teacher in the rather a series of separate, but interlocking/ classroom. This type of theory is expected to i n t e r c o n n e c t e d/contingent narratives provide a yardstick or conceptual framework adequately illustrates (as in a metaphor) our with which the teacher can understand normal social political reality. Life can be seen adequately what is going on in the human sense as a story, a journey, a voyage, a dream or a and being essentially retrospective, thus works nightmare, and all the instances that comprise closely with praxis. In fact rather than being a that existence are episodes of that process. division between theory and praxis, the two One sees here how important the metaphor of work together very closely. narrative in fact is once we get past the necessary theoretical abstractions. In this sense That is how the theory is supposed to work, the ELT classroom as experienced by both leading to a practical methodology. Theory need teacher and students fits into the great tapestry be nothing more than the best explanation so of our communal human existence, that far, thus inviting the next theory. If we wish to existence defined in terms of distinctive and offer a new methodology, we need first a theory. specific energy flows. The obvious question is then why do we need a new methodology. I think because although we Since the turn of the 21st Century, strategic maintain that we are using a “communicative studies have experienced a revival of creative approach”, the way we plan for and perceive the thought. Much of this has to do with the chaotic ELT classroom is firmly based in linear planning and volatile political situation which stimulates and presentation, which is there exists a the strategic theory approach: experience/ fundamental disjunction between the dynamics, praxis leading the way to new theoretical constraints and boundary conditions of the insights which in turn expand the general theory. classroom and the way we plan for, present and What happens particularly during such times of later evaluate our lessons. intellectual ferment is that thinkers from outside the discipline spur new approaches due to their Now for my assumptions pertaining to the ELT unique perspectives. classroom: First, the whole perspective is based on social interaction: the classroom, the English One of the most impressive commentators on language, students and teacher are all seen as strategic thought currently is a mathematician, specific and interacting social and cultural Venkatesh Rao whose book, Tempo, has elements, but more in the nature of energy flows received extensive commentary among those than material beings/objects. Thus the who study strategy. Following my second emphasis is on expectation, motivation, assumption mentioned above I will use Venkat’s cooperation, social context, contingency, and concepts applied to the ELT classroom by way of communication between individuals and not on a strategic theory/social action theory
Before doing that however, it is useful to refer to an essay Venkat wrote in January 2011 to provide the basic theoretical framework that I will be using. The title of that essay was “Boundary Condition Thinking”. Consider the figure below: Figure 1
who does the minimum just to get by in terms of output and behavior is skirting the boundary conditions of the ELT classroom, constantly probing how much they will be allowed to get away with. If you look at it in this way, you begin to see how disruptive this sort of behavior can be for the system as a whole, unless the teacher can somehow expand the boundary and include the wayward student in the dynamics by way of motivation, and even compulsion. Also under boundary conditions are basic questions as to how we define and who “owns” the classroom? The students or the teacher, or is it something they share?
Tempo has three elements: rhythm, emotion and energy
Starting at the center, the first concept is dynamics, which consist of the relevant elements and processes in motion. Most of what I mean by dynamics, I presented in an earlier article. Non-linearity is fundamental here since it explains much of the unpredictability we experience in this sort of social system, such as the ELT classroom. In fact non-linearity surrounds us and makes up most of our social/ physical reality. We are biological systems (non-linear) operating in a social context (non-linear) in a physical/temporal environment (non-linear). For simplicity’s sake, lets refer to dynamics as the temporal and contingent interactions of Students/Teacher/Language in the ELT classroom including associated friction. Constraints would be the pressures on the dynamics. For instance technology, syllabus/ course book, student/teacher expectations, class time, length of the course, and the cultural and language constraints affecting both the teacher and the students. Venkat says that the constraints are often invisible, whereas the dynamics are what we notice, although looking at the dynamics when the real issue is the constraints could lead to an unclear view of the situation. Thus it is important to see Constraints as a separate element. Boundary Conditions are what define the system even more than dynamics and constraints. Look at them this way: a student
What are the dimensions of the classroom itself? How do we define “materials"? Having a lesson outside on modes of transportation, with a second teacher suddenly riding a motorcycle into view and then giving a lesson on English vocabulary associated with motorcycles would be a boundary condition event, since we are questioning, even extending the boundaries of the classroom itself. Keeping all these concepts in mind, let us proceed to Venkat’s concept of tempo. Tempo has three elements: rhythm, emotion and energy and involves through narrative rationality decision making. When exposed to a new social situation we have four possible courses of action. Venkat uses the metaphor of driving which illustrates them well. Coming onto a highway, the driver must first merge with the existing traffic. The choice then is to simply go with the flow or to attempt to set a new pace. The fourth course of action would be what happens should an ambulance of police cruiser start its siren, disruption. In order to change tempo one must add or remove energy through the application of force, as in the accelerator or brakes of a car. If you think about it, the four above courses of action encompass much of what goes on in the ELT classroom. It is also interesting that it takes more energy to set a new pace than to go with the flow. Below we will see how narrative rationality provides the context in which this happens in terms of time and contingency. Human action is set in terms of tempo. So what guides this tempo? Our view of the world or mental model provides this. Venkat defines a mental model in this way theoretically:
A dynamic, unstable and partially coherent set of beliefs, desires and intentions held together by narratives that weave through the current realities, possible histories and possible futures of a situation.2 Seen another way, a mental model is our whole consciousness including rational and irrational/ e m o t i o n a l e l e m e n t s w h e re a s n a r ra t i ve rationality is how we think through specific situations. “Rationality” here does not mean any sort of objective rationality, but rather is “rational” as in explainable and meaningful for the individual/group within a specific situation. Another word for narrative is simply a story or context. Some argue that narratives are essentially biased, but what actually goes on within a community is a series of parallel and/or intersecting narratives, because people can look at the same phenomenon from different perspectives. The same language used to form narratives can have different meanings and symbols for individuals within the same group, which is why different and opposing views can both claim to represent the supposed common interests of the group in question. It is interesting here to point out that Venkat credits Clausewitz with introducing the first elements of narrative rationality. His definition of narrative rationality is:
two additional concepts tied with narratives, these being the Double Freytag Triangle and the Freytag Staircase.
Figure 2 The Double Freytag Triangle
Venkat uses this to illustrate a “deep story” which is one that goes through various phases and tempo shifts, that is complex and variable energy flows. Seen another way, this could provide us with a model for our perspective of what happens during an individual lesson or even a sequence of lessons. The final figure, the Freytag Staircase provides us with a “strategic view” of the sequence of deep stories that make up a much longer and complex narrative, or what we could see as a model for an entire course ( a set sequence of lessons planned to achieve specific learning aims).
The ability to think, make decisions, and act in ways that make sense with respect to the most compelling and elegant story that you can improvise about a developing enactment.3 Each teacher’s narrative rationality is different, but all share a basis of doctrine (what is seen as right and wrong, what should be happening and what should not), experience (what has happened in similar or dissimilar situations in the past), and intuition/inspiration. We see here that narrative rationality involves a harmonious interaction of right- and left-brain activity taking place within the larger mental model. What particularly interests us here in terms of theory and methodology, is that we can combine the concept of tempo with that of narrative rationality to understand energy flows that operate in the dynamics of the ELT system, while remaining conscious of the constraints present, but also able to manipulate both tempo and boundary conditions to assist us in achieving our purpose, that is a positive dynamic regarding English. So how does all of this fit together? Basically we need a couple of additional concepts to finish this introduction. I would like to introduce
Figure 3 Freytag Staircase What I have attempted here is to provide a very basic and general introduction to what seems to be something of the nature of a new paradigm regarding ELT, shifting the focus from PPP to task-based learning operating within a complex social system comprising energy flows. Strategic theory is based on the concepts and general theory of war developed by Carl von Clausewitz in his classic On War and his other writings. Strategic thought and strategic studies are broader fields which may or may not include strategic theory. 2 See Tempo, page 42. 3 See Tempo, page 70.
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Ezine for teachers of English with a special reference for teachers working in Lusophone countries.